This collision of air and water is what rules my life. It fills my thoughts. It pushes me to take risks and put myself in positions that some view with awe but many view with suspicion. And chasing tornadoes is how I want to spend the rest of my life. Honestly, I'm not sure I have a choice.
It's an interesting proposition, seeking happiness from tornadoes. For those few of us who are unquestion-ably mesmerized by them, chasing tornadoes can be the most fantastic experience in the world. Tornado chasing taxes your intellect and puts you at one with incredible, spectacular forces of nature. Chasing is also a fix for any adrenaline junkie and, if you do it often enough, can become your career.
But an obsession with stalking tornadoes can kill or maim you, too, and even if chasing doesn't leave you with physical scars or a need for crutches, it's hard to escape unscathed. You'll witness death and de-struction of property that sickens your stomach and saddens your heart. Your family will worry about you. Significant others will grow tired of playing second fiddle. Peers will disagree with the way you chase, and you'll lose friends to your obsession.
So when it comes to shadowing tornadoes, you have to ask yourself: What is chasing those violent, crazy, beautiful dreams—and I do mean chasing them—worth to you?
Twelve years ago, even before I'd experienced the highs and lows, before I'd seen what tornadoes were truly capable of, chasing them became everything to me.
I remember exactly when the dreams started crowding my mind. I was a naive eighteen-year-old, still eight months shy of a huge storm-chasing rite of passage—intercepting a stunning, gigantic, and deadly F5 tornado.
I was in college, a smart and quirky freshman, and I sat in a lecture hall full of aspiring meteorologists. Back then, nobody—myself included—thought my name would become synonymous with tornadoes and severe weather. In fact, back then I stood out only because I appeared to be the student least likely to succeed.
I remember one fellow student's sentiments toward me in particular. Honestly, she thought I was a fool.
It was a Tuesday afternoon, weeks into the fall semester of 1998. I was sitting next to my new friend Rick during a class held in sprawling Dale Hall on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman. The course was Meteorology 1111, a prerequisite for all OU freshmen pursuing a meteorology degree. Rick and I spent class exchanging messages and sketches about things we found more interesting than the boring lecture. This day was no different. After I'd written something on the back of a paper napkin and handed it to him, Rick softly yet enthusiastically pounded the armrest with his fist.
That's when the blond student sitting in the row ahead of us turned around and gave us a dismissive glance. Without saying a thing, I understood her glare. It said, "Please pay attention."
I didn't appreciate being told—even silently—what to do. I wanted to ignore her. But instead I gave the young woman an acknowledging nod. Three minutes later, Rick accidentally knocked a notebook off his desk while returning the napkin to mine. The notebook hit the floor with a thud.
This time the blond turned around and clearly mouthed this message to me: "Why do you show up?"